Smoke from nearby forest fires has made its way to the Flathead Valley and our usually brilliant blue sky is now overcast. This past week we headed to the northern end of the lake and the haze was so bad that it felt like we were canoeing at dusk even though it was noon.
The north end of Flathead Lake offers a stark contrast to what we are used to in the Lakeside area. The Somers end of the lake used to be home to a saw mill and railroad tie factory and the remains of industry can still be seen in old pilings and buildings.
Along the shoreline the water is very shallow and sandy compared to the rocky shore that we usually swim off at West Shore State Park. The Younger Fives had a ball jumping out of the kayak and running along the lake bottom while we floated along behind them.
With the overcast sky it seemed like we were canoeing along an ocean bay instead of on Flathead Lake. The bird spotting was thick along the shores of the lake with geese, gulls, and osprey spread out in the shade of the large cottonwood trees. We all enjoyed the change of environment even though we were still on the same body of water.
The Flathead Lake Biological Station was established in 1899 making it one of the oldest active biological field research stations in the United States. This past week we were fortunate to take part in their open house. We had never explored the Yellow Bay section of Flathead Lake before and were astounded by the number of cherry orchards that we passed as we drove to the station. Even more exciting however, was being able to tour the Biological Station and find out more about the research projects taking place on and around the lake.
As we toured the grounds we met a variety of scientists both international and local that were more than happy to explain their research projects to us. We viewed and learned more about drones that are being used to map mountains and floodplains. The kids took part in a hands on experiment that helped them understand the many shapes (and their function) of plankton. At one display the kids were tasked with finding a representation of Nitrogen and Phosphorus in a large bucket of sand. This helped explain how little Nitrogen and especially Phosphorus there is in Flathead Lake. The Phosphorus in the lake is used so quickly that it is incredibly hard to detect in water samples.
After making our way through the Biological Station’s buildings we headed down towards the dock where we watched two dogs that were trained to sniff out invasive species. It was incredible to watch one of the dogs find a Zebra Mussel hidden in the motor of a boat within seconds of the scent hitting her nose.
For the grand finale of our tour we went out on one of the field station boats towards one of the monitoring buoys placed on the lake. The boat operator (a long-time researcher at the station) gave us a great overview of the work going on at the Flathead Lake Biological Station. The kids especially enjoyed the high waves that the boat encountered due to it being a very windy day!
All in all it was a fascinating open house and a great hands on look into the science being conducted just across the lake from us. It was especially wonderful to hear that Flathead Lake is a very healthy ecosystem and that a lot of work is being put into keeping it that way.
Throughout the month of July we have been discovering fawns around our property. For a while we thought it was all the same baby deer left sheltered in the shade of our backyard foliage. However, as the month progressed we realized that we were seeing not one but three separate fawns. As they got older and more brave they left their sheltered hiding places and started grazing together around our lawn. The mother deer appears every once in a while with an extremely large udder containing enough milk for three hungry babies. The rest of the time the young fawns hang out under the cherry tree and drink from our bird baths. When they loose sight of each other you can hear their loud frantic bleats until they are once again reunited. It has been a great pleasure to watch them throughout the month. Five of Hearts has named them Spotty, Polka Dot, and Bambi. It will be interesting to see how long they stay around.
The Flathead Valley gets very busy during the summer, and we’re always on the lookout for places that are off the beaten path and don’t require sitting in traffic in order to get there. Finger Lake, about a half hour north of Whitefish, fit the bill and was the perfect hike for cooling off on a hot day.
The trail head, which provides access to three different family-friendly lake hikes, is just before the Upper Stillwater Campground (follow the signs to the campground just past mile marker 151 on Highway 93; the trail head is right before the campground itself). Thanks to the Farm to Market Road, we could avoid traffic and bypass both Kalispell and Whitefish. Finger Lake is a 3 mile round trip hike with about 100 feet of total elevation gain. There are a few brief inclines but nothing too taxing for anyone in our group.
Besides the lake itself, the cliffs are the other main attraction. The trail peters out at a large section of outcroppings that provide a many options for making a splash into the lake. Some are not for the faint of heart, but others are just rocks jutting out into the water that rise only a few feet out of the lake.
After our return hike we continued down the road to Upper Stillwater Lake. The Younger Fives had a blast riding the current of the Stillwater River just before it empties into the Lake. We didn’t have our boogie boards with us, but they will definitely be packed for our next visit.
After spending the day we feel like we only scratched the surface, and we’re eager to check out Wall Lake and Lagoni Lake. With another few weeks of dry, hot weather in the forecast, we’re sure to make another visit soon.
The Younger Fives have been collecting junior ranger badges at national and state parks throughout the United States and Canada since 2013. They have worked hard to complete junior ranger booklets and activities while visiting the park and be sworn in as a junior ranger by park staff. For several years the badges and patches have been stuffed into suitcases and the the car glove compartment while we traveled.
However, once we were a little more settled it was our intent to display their badges in some way. At first it seemed that buying a National Park Service tee-shirt or bandanna to pin them to would be the way to go. However, after several trips to park gift shops nothing turned up that worked. Most merchandise is specific to the park that you are visiting and while we have our favorite parks we wanted something more generic.
So, the badges continued to sit in a keepsake box undisplayed. Until this past week when we finally got our act together and decided to grab out the trusty glue gun and make our own hanging wall pennant with the help of some brown felt and a few backyard sticks. The whole project took less than 15 minutes and the Younger Five’s junior ranger badges are now proudly displayed on their bedroom walls. The best part is crossing this long enduring to-do item off the never ending list that is tacked to the refrigerator 🙂